BLACK HISTORY: Margaret Garner – The woman who inspired BELOVED

Posted in Black History


Being that it is Black History month I found it prudent that in the midst of the shade, foolery, and other entertainment foolishness that I carved out a little time to educate my captive audience. I’ve decided to team up with @Anti_Intellect of the Anti Intellect Blog to bring to you guys a few nuggets of Black History. ~ Funky Dineva

Fans of Toni Morrison will remember her 1987 novel Beloved. The novel was also turned into a movie in 1998 starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. While many know the book and the movie, few people know of the actual woman who inspired the book.

When it comes to Blacks who lived during the 19th century, we often only hear about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. While I think these two figures are immensely important to our collective Black memory, I also think that Margaret Garner, the woman whose life inspired Toni Morrison to write Beloved, is immensely important to our memory.

Margaret Garner became the face of the abolitionist movement when, in 1856, she killed her two year old daughter rather than allow her to return to a life of slavery. She, her husband, and her kids had escaped the brutal life of her slave owner. A life where she was repeatedly raped and beat. They were eventually caught, however. And it was then that she made the fateful decision.

In 1856, an article, titled “A Visit to the Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child, appeared in a publication called The American Baptist:

“She said that when the officers and slave-holders came to the house in which they were concealed, she caught a shovel and struck two of her children on the head, and then took a knife and cut the throat of the third, and tried to kill the other–that with regard to herself, she cared very little; but she was unwilling to have her children suffer as she had done.

I inquired if she was not excited almost to to madness when she committed the act. No, she replied. I was as cool as I am now; and would much rather kill them at once, and thus end their sufferings, than have them taken back to slavery, and be murdered by piecemeal.”

Margaret Garner was not charged with murder for killing her child. Instead, she was charged with stolen property. Had she been charged with murder–which would have recognized her humanity–The Fugitive Slave Act may have been overturned, but that was not the case. The law of the land designed enslaved Blacks as property, not people. Under slavery, Black women and men were merely seen as objects, not even entitled to their own children.

Margaret Garner is a painful and poignant reminder of how perverse the institution of slavery really was. It is truly powerful when murder is the most loving act a mother can undertake. It is common for those of us living today to imagine that we know exactly what we would have done had we lived during slavery, but do we really know? Unless you have been thrust into a situation where revolutionary death is literally more liberating than enslaved life, you honestly don’t know how you would respond.

I choose to remember Margaret Garner as a courageous Black woman who made a painful decision during an extremely painful period in Black history.

To learn more about the life of Margaret Garner, please read Modern Medea: A Family Story of Slavery and Child Murder from the Old South.

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29 thoughts on “BLACK HISTORY: Margaret Garner – The woman who inspired BELOVED

  1. I never knew that was a true story! The school system really knows how to hide stuff. I would do the same before my child is sold into slavery!!

  2. Thanks for posting this Dineva. I’m like a few other posters and didnt know there was a true story behind the book/movie. Our history is so profound and rich! Even with heartbreaking stories like this I am proud to be an African American Woman *fist in the air*!!!

  3. Thanks for posting this! I never knew this was a true story. The things we endured as a people…Thank God we made it!

  4. Thank you for sharing this story. I never knew this was a true story. I appreciate you sharing history that is not the norm like MLK, malcolm x etc.

  5. I didn’t know that Beloved was a true story. I saw Beloved about 15 or so years ago and I haven’t watched it since because it was so creepy. Thandie Newton’s character was scary as heck and to see that this was a true story, just wow.

  6. Good post. We can never imagine the brutal system that this woman refused to let her children live in. Can you even believe this horrid institution reigned for over 400 years least we forget!

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